Who Are You on the Leadership Stage?

Last weekend was a test of who I was on the leadership stage. I wasn’t having a particularly good day. And I was in a kids playplace (which isn’t necessarily my favorite thing). Amidst the high-octane energy of children and the general chaos, it was hard to think or focus on anything. Since I love reading children’s books, I found my refuge in the Thea Sisters. It was then that a gentleman walked up to me and said:

You’re Anitha Aswath, right?


Hi, I’m Murali. We both worked at Target.

Oh ok. Hi Murali.

Just wanted to say you were an inspiration. I mean, you are an inspiration even now. I follow all your articles on LinkedIn. Thank you!

Oh, thank you.

Minutes after he left, I was disappointed with myself. This gentleman had made the effort to walk up to my table and say: I see you. I care about the content you create. And, you’ve made a difference to me.

And what was my reaction? Lukewarm. Preoccupied. Not generous. It was a missed opportunity to bring my best self into that conversation.

Leadership Serves Every Day 

Leadership is not self-serving. It is about serving others. This includes your people, teams, the business, and your overall vision. It’s about serving people who choose to invest in your followership. Whether you’re having a bad day or not, you’re on stage every, single, day. People watch, learn, and imbibe from your behaviors as much as they do from the content you create on social media. When there’s mis-alignment between real-time and online behaviors, your brand suffers. And, even beyond the brand, you will be disappointed at not living up to the standards you set for yourself. This incident was an important reminder for me to confront my leadership behavior and learn from an opportunity missed.

Recognition beyond Recognition

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

Recognition isn’t just about physical identification. It is acknowledgement of existence. And in this case, it required a deeper receiving of grace. Whether I knew and recognized this gentleman immediately or not was inconsequential. Did I recognize his presence and create a meaningful moment of truth? That was the real question.

How do you recognize your teams, peers, and followers? Are you 100% present? Is the recognition based on power, authority, and title? Or is it based on your personal, leadership values? Here’s a fitting example. Fran Katsoudas was a keynote speaker in a Cisco leadership event. Colleagues with power, authority, and title had gathered close to her vying for their moment in the sun. I stood back and waited patiently for the right moment to say hello to her. She then walked right up to me and greeted me with a warm handshake. With her big, beaming smile, she said: “Hi! How are you?!” I had never met her before. She didn’t know me personally. Beyond hierarchy and grade, Fran recognized me in that moment with generosity and presence. This was true recognition beyond recognition.

Stand and deliver on the leadership stage

William Hall is one of my favorite executive trainers from the Stand & Deliver Group. As an actor, director, and trainer, William taught me the power of presence and how it helps connect, influence, and share in a way that creates meaning, both for the sender and receiver.

In this context, it was a 2-minute conversation. And I realized that I didn’t stand and deliver. Both literally and figuratively. As Peter Myers, Founder and President of the Stand & Deliver Group says: Presence is a choice. Especially, when it comes to how we engage and enrol people.

Never take the stage for granted

Leadership is not about title or authority. It is about behaviors. Stakeholders and followers observe, assess, and interpret these behaviors on a regular basis. If I have earned engagement and followership because of my leadership behaviors, it pays to remember to never take that leadership stage for granted. Their engagement is a privilege and can be lost in a moment of callous indiscretion or poor choices.

Everyday Leadership Stage

Early in my career, I always thought of leadership as CEOs, political supremos, or powerful, business owners. Much later, I started to redefine leadership as behaviors that you and I demonstrate, on an everyday basis. I view them as choices we make in the everyday moments. Because every opportunity to choose is an opportunity to show up on the leadership stage.

What I learned from the incident on the weekend was that we can sometimes make poor choices because we’re having a bad day. But what’s important is that we turn failure into muscle as this HuffPost article points out.

How do you continue to learn from your everyday, leadership choices?

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Anitha Aswath is a Senior Leadership Coach, Team Consultant, and Global Facilitator. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is trained by The Marcus Buckingham Company in StandOut and Strengths Coaching for Business Leaders. She is currently pursuing Brain-Based Coaching Certification from the NeuroLeadership Institute. An avid photographer, blogger, aviation enthusiast, Anitha is also a student of Indian Classical Music of the Hindustani style.

In an illustrious career spanning 20 years, she has served organizations like General Electric, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Cisco in regional and global capacities. As a Leadership Coach, she works with clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of leaders and their teams.


2 thoughts on “Who Are You on the Leadership Stage?”

  1. I used this article to help my team prepare their thoughts on how they have have been leaders this past year. Love it! Thank you.

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